Calais, Chaos and the challenge of migration

The news story of the summer is undoubtedly the disruption of the Dover Calais crossing and the reporting of migrants seeking to get into the UK illegally. As a news junkie I’m often a bit cynical about news management but the reporting of this story has been lazy in the extreme.

Travel chaos is the result of an old fashioned industrial dispute.

There used to be a French ferry company called SeaFrance. It made substantial losses and was liquidated in early 2012. Most of the ferries were purchased by Eurotunnel who then entered a leasing deal with a co-operative of French workers to create MyFerryLink.

However, the UK competition commission argued that it was anticompetitive for Eurotunnel (who operate the Channel Tunnel) to be running ferries as well. A legal battle followed; Eurotunnel tired of this and judgements against them so sold two of the Ferries to Danish operator DFDS.

The result of this is the loss of up to 400 French ferry jobs. The MyFerryLink workers went on strike, blocking the port at Calais, dropping burning tires on the Eurotunnel lines and occupying the ferries so they could not be transferred to DFDS.

The result was not only a reduction in the number of sailings available between Dover and Calais but the strike blocking / slowing the movement through the port of Calais.

This results in travel delays. The vast majority of the disruption we’ve seen is due to this, not migrants.


Calais is tip of a bigger migrant crisis.

I’ve seen it reported that 10 million people have now been displaced by the conflict in Syria. They along with people from Afghanistan, Yemen and Eritrea see Europe as a place of safety and opportunity. Over 700,000 people have claimed asylum in Europe in the last year. Leaving behind situations of life and death many flee and take their chances; usually entering the EU through Italy, Greece and Hungary. These point of entry countries are then overwhelmed; 250,000 people are said to have entered so far this year.

Those ending up in Calais are a small proportion of the total and the real solutions are not to be found there but in the bigger strategic picture.


There’s a lot of European politics involved.

Under the so called Dublin Regulation people entering the EU to seek asylum should do so in the first EU country they reach. If fully implemented that would be impractical for point of entry countries; so the European Commission has proposed a quota system whereby every country would take some asylum seekers. Some countries like the UK are exempted but others, like France, are opposed to it.

Some countries, Germany for example, has taken in many asylum seekers in recent years. Others, UK and Sweden have given finance to support refugee camps in the Middle East.

It is this which enables political posturing like that between France and Italy over the migrants at  Ventimiglia and between UK and France over Calais. No one wants to take responsibility for acting.


If there isn’t a fair system people will make an unfair one.

Who gains from the current system? Human traffickers and others who transport people across the Mediterranean in boats, help get people into Britain and through Libya all in exchange for money.

Likewise, in a situation where most people end up in a country illegally there is no means of prioritising those who have fled persecution and those who moves are more economic.

In a system were many die on route is it any wonder that young men make it to Calais whereas fewer women and children do?


There are no easy answers

Most people accept there are no easy answers but leaving people to rot in squalor is no answer either. The UK and other countries need to acknowledge that some of the current geo-political instability is the result of us projecting our military power to intervene in other countries and we have a responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

Most migrants are looking to live with their families in freedom, make a living and do something with their lives; one of the reasons they don’t want to remain in refugee camps is that they can’t do these things.

We can ensure we treat refugees as people, just like us. Whereas we have the good fortune to live in a country with relative wealth, prosperity and freedom they had the misfortune to live in a country without these things. We can work together for the benefit of everyone.

The UK economy needs immigration. We must find ways of giving refugees access to UK and other European countries directly from UN refugee camps and not via traffickers or by fishing them out of the Mediterranean.

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